(photo credit: Asaf Kliger and Adi Avishai)
Four days after moving within touching distance of regaining the Premier League title, Maccabi Haifa will look to close in on a first double since the 1990/91 season when it faces Maccabi Netanya in the State Cup semifinals at National Stadium in Ramat Gan on Wednesday.
A 2-0 victory over title-rival Hapoel Tel Aviv, followed by another win by the same scoreline at Maccabi Tel Aviv on Saturday, gave Haifa a four-point margin atop of the league standings with two more matches remaining.
One more league win would be enough for the Greens to claim their 12th league title and seventh in the past 11 years.
However, Haifa has found success in the cup far more elusive, failing to lift the trophy since 1998 and only reaching the final twice (2002, 2009) in the last 12 years.
In fact, Haifa has only won the league and cup double once in its history and coach Elisha Levy is determined his team can repeat the accomplishment from the 1990/91 campaign.
“We have two more weeks until the end of the season,” Levy said. “The victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv was important and the match against Netanya is super-important. We need to give our all to win because we saw how good a team Netanya is.
“Haifa hasn’t won the cup in many years and I hope we approach this match better than we did the last time we played them.”
Two-and-a-half weeks ago, Netanya left Kiryat Eliezer Stadium with a 2-1 win over Haifa, a week after recording a 1-1 home draw against the Greens.
Netanya hasn’t lost in 16 matches in all competitions, breaking the club record from 1983, an especially remarkable achievement considering Reuven Atar’s team was regarded as one of the weakest in the league at the start of the season.
“We have proven our worth over the last three months,” Atar said. “Winning the cup isn’t just a matter of dreaming about it but a product of hard work day in day out.” In the first semi of the day, Hapoel Tel Aviv plays Ironi Kiryat Shmona.
After seeing its league title slip away on Saturday following its 2-2 draw with Netanya and Haifa’s victory, Tel Aviv will be hoping to salvage something from this season by winning a second straight cup.
Hapoel’s league campaign has crumbled at the seams in recent weeks, with the Reds winning just four of their last nine matches, allowing Haifa to take control of the title race and leaving Tel Aviv to face the prospect of ending the season empty handed.
“We know we haven’t impressed in recent weeks, but that is part of the game,” said Hapoel striker Toto Tamuz, who leads the league with 20 goals and has been one of the few Tel Aviv players to play to potential this season.
“There are moments when you need to know how to lift your play and I
hope that we can do that against Netanya because we want to at least
have something sweet from this season.”
Kiryat Shmona will also be looking to recover from a recent slump on
Wednesday after losing four of its last five league matches.
Following its recent defeats, Kiryat Shmona has lost almost all hope of
finishing in the third place that it held for much of the season and
qualifying for the Europa League via the league.
However, Ran Ben-Shimon’s players are optimistic that they can book a
continental berth with success in the cup, with a win over Tel Aviv in
their first ever semifinal coupled with a Haifa victory on Wednesday, to
secure Kiryat Shmona a place in the Europa League.
“We have been playing well in recent weeks, but we have simply struggled
to score,” defender Ori Shitrit said. “I hope that luck will be on our
side against Hapoel and that we will be able to advance to the final.”